Published Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 | 4:46 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 | 5:50 p.m.
VEGAS INC archives
Just seven months after California-based solar power company Amonix Inc. opened its largest manufacturing plant, in North Las Vegas, the company’s contractor has laid off nearly two-thirds of its workforce.
Flextronics Industrial, the Singapore manufacturing service provider that partnered with Amonix to staff the new $18 million, 214,000-square-foot plant, laid off about 200 of its 300-plus employees Tuesday.
Amonix’s director of manufacturing operations, Eric Culberson, said the layoffs are part of “retooling” the factory as the company prepares to roll out its next-generation product.
“The new 8700 utility-scale CPV solar power system is a higher efficiency and lower cost,” Culberson said. “Once it is ready, we will ramp back up to meet the demands of the industry.”
Culberson said the job cuts are temporary and expects to begin hiring more people in the second half of the year to meet demand.
The company scaled down at all levels of employment at the plant — which was hiring as recently as three months ago — from entry level assemblers, process engineers, production supervisors and quality-control techs, according to one employee who was laid off.
Culberson said layoffs were made across the board.
Theodore Lewis, another employee, was working at the plant for six months before he and dozens of other employees were called into a mandatory meeting Tuesday.
“There was no excuse,” said Lewis, 34, who was never told his job was temporary. “They just said our job was done.”
Lewis said employees were confused and disappointed when they heard the news and were directed by human resources to look for other local jobs in retail.
The Las Vegas resident, who worked various assembly jobs at the plant, said it took him more than a month to secure the job last year and is frustrated to be back at square one.
“It’s setting me back,” Lewis said. “Now I have to fish for another job. It was hard getting that job and now this."
With a promise to bring hundreds of clean energy jobs and boost the hard-hit North Las Vegas economy, the plant was heralded as a success earlier this month by Mayor Shari Buck in her state of the city address.
Buck said Wednesday that she was aware of the layoffs but has faith the company will bring back the jobs.
“They were temporary employees brought in to handle a major project,” she said. “Amonix is taking the opportunity to automate their system better and get ready for the next big project. I expect Amonix to continue to be successful and have a great future in their solar production.”
Amonix and Flextronics opened shop in May 2011 at the Golden Triangle Industrial Park near Craig Road and Interstate 15 in North Las Vegas to a warm welcome from U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., Gov. Brian Sandoval and Buck.
Amonix received a $5.9 million investment tax credit through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in 2010, and another $12 million in private capital helped finance the plant.
Together, the two companies manufacture concentrated photovoltaic solar power systems, producing about four solar panel arrays — each 50 feet by 72 feet — a day. The Amonix 7700 systems were estimated to generate enough solar energy to power up to 30 homes.
Many of the solar panels are shipped to clients in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, but the company has built solar arrays for UNLV, NV Energy and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Although the company originally said it was working to secure contracts with the new water reclamation facility and the Veterans Affairs hospital under construction in North Las Vegas, Culberson would not comment on the status of the local projects.
Last month, Amonix CEO Brian Robertson was killed in a plane crash in Pennsylvania. An Amonix spokeswoman said the layoffs were in process before he died. Jan van Dokkum, an operating partner with venture capital firm KPCB, was named interim CEO.